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Second presidential debate shines a welcome spotlight on the environment

Second presidential debate shines a welcome spotlight on the environment

Presidential candidates pose before the start of the second debate sponsored by the Commission on Elections held at the Sofitel Harbor Garden Tent in Pasay City on Sunday, April 3, 2022. From left are Ernesto Abella, Leodegario de Guzman, Francisco Domagoso, Norberto Gonzales, Panfilo Lacson, Faisal Mangondato, Jose Montemayor, Emmanuel Pacquiao and Maria Leonor Robredo. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA

Before the start of the second debate sponsored in part by the Commission on Elections, presidential candidates pose. It was held at Pasay City’s Sofitel Garden Tent on Sunday, April 3, 2022. From left are Ernesto Abella, Leodegario de Guzman, Francisco Domagoso, Norberto Gonzales, Panfilo Lacson, Faisal Mangondato, Jose Montemayor, Emmanuel Pacquiao and Maria Leonor Robredo. PHOTO BY J.GERARD SEGUIA

LAST Sunday’s presidential debate was the second organized by Commission on Elections (Comelec). It included some time for discussion about the candidates’ views on climate change and the environment. This was very welcome, considering that the topic has not received much attention during the campaign despite its critical importance for the country.

The organizers designed the segment on environmental issues so that three candidates (one of the 10 running to the presidency) were asked one question each. The first question was addressed to Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo. It was also directed to labor leader Leodegario “Ka Leody” de Guzman, and former Malacaang spokesman Ernesto Abella. The second question was directed at Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Domagoso and former defense secretary Norberto Gonzalezales. The third question was directed towards Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao and Dr. Jose Montemayor Jr.

We believe that the format, while necessary to keep order, did not allow for fair side-by-side comparisons of the candidates’ positions. However, all of those participating in the debate seemed to have broadly similar views. That is because what was said is far more important than the person who said it. This is a good thing, as the importance of climate and environmental policy means that whoever wins the presidency should be open-minded to any good idea, regardless its political origin.

The first question asked, “How will your organization promote renewable energy?” All candidates agreed that it was important to consider shifting to renewable energy as an ongoing process. This is necessary to ensure overall energy security. Consider non-renewable, but cleaner, alternative energy sources such as natural gas or nuclear energy. However, focusing on renewable energy’s application to agriculture may accelerate progress towards increasing the country’s share of renewables in its energy mix.

The second question asked about the most immediate environmental concern, “How can you ensure clean water for everyone?” It was highlighted that watershed management and the potential sources of water should be improved. This objective could be achieved by creating a Department of Water and requiring water concessionaires to invest more money in watershed management. The importance of improving and expanding irrigation to increase agricultural productivity was also highlighted.

The third question was “What programs will be pursued to protect the nutrition of our nationmen, especially the poor?” This question was not directly related with environmental concerns but is still relevant because climate issues have a significant effect on agriculture. The main takeaway from this conversation was the importance for better land management such as the passage of the Land Use Act, and stricter control over land conversion.

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Although the recent debate could have gone into greater detail on the topic, it provided a valuable opportunity for both presidential candidates and voters to discuss environmental issues in the context of the top and most practical priorities: food, water, and energy for all Filipinos. We are grateful to the Comelec organizers who included the questions in the debate program. However, we hope that future debates will explore the topic in greater detail.

The environment management and preservation should not be seen as a political issue, as the ever-increasing effects of climate change are affecting everyone. These impacts are becoming more severe, and our options for adapting to them and reducing their impact on the environment become less viable. The revelation that the candidates have similar views on environmental issues should send a clear message to all of them that whoever is chosen to lead this country must be open-minded and willingly work with people who might have sharply different views on other issues.


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